directed by Kevin Smith
(View Askew, 1999)

Blasphemous? Sure, in bits. Irreverent? Absolutely.

But, despite all the flap and protest (mostly from people who, as usual, haven't seen the film they're complaining about), Dogma is a powerful film, a story with a strong message about faith, belief and forgiveness.

It's also full of laughter and not a small amount of violent blood-letting. Dogma is certainly not for the squeamish and the easily offended. Everyone else should do whatever it takes to see it, even if you have to pass through a picket line of religious protesters to do it.

It would take too long to list all of the reasons some people are protesting Kevin Smith's foray into the heavenly plane. But here are a few:

• A New Jersey faction of the Catholic church is trying to attract a young, hip congregation through its new Catholicism WOW! campaign. Amongs its precepts -- replacing the grim, depressing crucifix with a broadly grinning, winking, "I'm OK, you're OK" statue called the Buddy Christ. (George Carlin is magnificent as the church's idea man, Cardinal Glick.)

• The anti-abortion protesters outside a Wisconsin clinic are portrayed across the board as thick-headed and dim. (I'm not going to say it, I'm not going to say it....)

• Angels are shown as being coarse, impatient and lewd.

• Disney -- well, if you miss the obvious slam at the Disney empire, you must have been out for a very long and poorly timed potty break.

Dogma marks the return of Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), the ubiquitous anti-heroes of director Smith's films. Jay is foul-mouthed, clueless and excessively horny; Bob is quietly noble and loyal.

Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) is sterile, divorced and doubting her faith. She's also the Last Scion of Christ, descended from the bloodline of Jesus Christ's siblings. She makes her graceful entrance into the world of supernatural humbuggery by trying to extinguish the flame of the Voice of God.

Metatron (a.k.a. The Voice) is marvelously played by Alan Rickman, sneering and world-weary and, by the end, remarkably compassionate.

Also making appearances from Heaven are Rufus (Chris Rock), the 13th Apostle, whose "black victim" mentality is a little out of place and detracts from an otherwise fine performance; the muse-made-mortal Serendipity (Salma Hayek), who's mostly in the film as extra eye candy; and the fallen angel/muse Azrael (Jason Lee), who oozes malice and has orchestrated the events of the film.

And then there are the banished angels Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon), who've spent an eternity on Earth paying for an unwise defiance of God's will.

Our sympathies lie initially with them -- a comedic, affable pair of well-meaning do-gooders who only want to go home. They think they've found a loophole in God's plan -- neatly tied into the Catholicism WOW! doctrines -- and are prepared to use it to return to Heaven despite the obvious and serious consequences of proving God wrong. So they head for Jersey, as does the Last Scion and her allies Rufus, Jay and Silent Bob, and Metatron. En route, Bethany & Co. battle a loathsome shit demon, a trio of rollerblading demonic hockey enthusiasts and, of course, the angels Bartleby and Loki.

God, too, makes an appearance in the guise of a (mostly) silent Alannis Morrisette. (This isn't a commentary from Smith supporting the "God is female" point of view, by the way -- God's gender, the movie claims, is not a fixed point.) And we learn a few things about God, too: He loves skeeball and sunrises over the ocean; she loves flowers and handstands; they are merciful and terrible and compassionate and powerful and whimsical; and she likes to tweak noses, too.

There's a moral hiding amid all the chaos and comedy, and anyone who comes away from the film without a message wasn't paying attention. Belief, Smith argues, isn't as important as faith -- and ideas are more important still. Thankfully, Smith had some pretty good ideas for this film.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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